College students partner with Leader Dogs for the Blind to train pups

Posted at 4:53 PM, Sep 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-27 17:04:38-04

Guide dogs have to know the basics before leading the blind, and some of them are heading to college to get that lesson.

PHOTOS: College students train puppies to be Leader Dogs

That's because Rochester College students have teamed up with Leader Dogs for the Blind to help train puppies.

"The whole focus here is to produce great guide dogs to give people independent travel," Rod Haneline, chief operating officer for Leader Dogs for the Blind.

The dogs are enrolled in obedience 101, but that's not exactly a class.

Dogs Bella and Nova are part of the pilot program.

"Somebody's going to do it, I think I would like to be the person who does it," said Courtney Cronin, Nova's handler.

The students were given the puppies a couple of months ago and will care for them until the beginning of summer.

That's when they have to give them back to the organization for the next part of the dog's training.

Cronin explained, "Sad because she is not my dog and we have a really good relationship and I know that I'm going to have to give her up one day."

The handlers take the dogs to classes and extracurricular activities,

They have assigned "puppy-sitters" if they have to leave the dogs behind.

Haneline explained, "We want dogs that are well socialized, that they can go into any setting or environment and not be afraid. But they also have to have manners. They can't greet everyone that comes up to them."

Nova has a lot to learn.

Cronin said, "She doesn't always like to listen. She is definitely a type of dog that knows the rules but then also knows that she can break them."

"Only about 50% of our dogs, regardless of where they are raised or who they are raised by, make the cut," Haneline added.

Even though the handlers have to give up the dogs, they take comfort in knowing the pups will play an important role as a guide dog.

Cronin added, "She's got a life bigger than what I'm giving her."

The dogs and handlers all live in the same dorm.

The building has a dozen rooms and school officials hope to fill it with up to 12 dogs in the future.